Happy Breastfeeding week! This is linked up as part of Mothering.com’s breastfeeding week blogging extravaganza. A note to men: graphic discussion on female topics to follow. You know what to do…
Long before I actually had a baby, I wrote about wanting to breastfeed. I don’t know why I was so passionate about it even before I was a mom, but omigosh I was. Am. Even more so. YAY BOOBS! So many things about the entire mothering experience fascinate me to no end. It is truly biology and nature in its most raw form and as such is super cool.
The first thing to blow my mind was just the ridiculously strong instinct to feed my baby. Almost as soon as we got home with our new little dude, I had a heavy bleed and the OB nurses told me to go back to the hospital. Logistics-wise we didn’t have a ton of options, but I would have gotten sepsis before I would have taken a three day old into an ER in January, so it was determined Jeff would stay home with the baby and my mom would give me a lift. I tried pumping for the first time and got, like, a fifth of an ounce? I let the baby nurse and then we made a run for it.
Long story slightly less long, everything ended up being OK. They took me right back when I arrived so I was hopeful I’d be able to get my boobs home quickly. But because of usual bureaucracy, I was stuck waiting for eons between being declared OK and then actually getting formally discharged, and I was ABSOLUTELY LOSING MY GRIP ON SANITY waiting there and imagining my hungry baby at home with the world’s most pitiful bottle in history. (The efforts of my pumping slightly covered the bottom of the bottle. Not an exaggeration).
I kept begging to please be let out and they kept telling me 15 more minutes, just waiting for one signature, just waiting to make sure one more test checks out. After 4 or 5 increments of 15 minute promises I was truly getting stabby. I was wearing a white shirt now soaked with two giant circles of milk. I finally hit the call button and said I WILL TAKE THIS IV OUT MYSELF IF I HAVE TO, I’M GOING HOME TO FEED MY KID. The nurse took out my IV and was printing the papers for me to sign out AMA when finally my formal discharge came through. Even though my husband was reporting that baby was fine at home, my mind raced the entire ride back. Must go faster must go faster must feed baby must feed baby must feed baby.
I didn’t really understand the concept of engorgement. I know now that I was, but I thought that was just, you know, what a normal boob full of milk looked like. So when baby was a week old or so, things started going back to normal, and of course I panicked that my milk had gone away. One morning I woke up and my left boob had failed to refill into enormity and I PANICKED. It was a weekend so the hospital lactation office was closed, so I Googled the La Leche leaders in my area and called through about five of them before some poor soul picked up and got my crazy self on the other end. YES HELLO OH MY GOD HELP MY LEFT BOOB IS BROKEN, I JUST WOKE UP THIS MORNING AND IT’S SO SMALL THERE’S NO MILK HELP MY BABY WILL STARVE. The kind woman explained how the whole system worked and that my boob was probably fine. Also that I sounded a little hysteric and might feel better if I went to a breastfeeding support group.
It was a good suggestion and I went a couple of times when baby was tiny. Mostly because the area’s only drive-through Starbucks was on the way. The woman who facilitated the group was an absolute sage, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who knows more about babies and breastfeeding than this woman. The first thing she did when a new baby came in the door was check the baby’s tongue. A nice long tongue is what a baby needs to breastfeed well, apparently. The more you know. This woman would ask the baby’s name, look them in the eye, and in the most heavenly and soothing voice say Well good morning, little Kate. Look at you, you are so beautiful. What a sweet little baby you are! Kate, may I see your tongue please? And out would come a teeny weeny newborn tongue. I swear to you this worked EVERY TIME. Including on my own baby, I watched it with my own eyes. “Babies understand everything,” she always said.
In general everything went really well for us but we did have some tough weeks early on. Right between month 1 and 2 if I recall? Baby would nurse peacefully all night, nurse peacefully in the morning, and then as the day went on become increasingly and increasingly more ENRAGED at the idea of being put to my breast. I knew he was hungry, but he would take a few sucks then scream and use all of his might to arch away from me. It was a heartbreaking sight, knowing something was making this a horrible experience for him, and not having any idea what it was. I spoke to the lactation consultant again. It’s very common baby behavior. And we don’t really know why. Just keep at it. I still don’t know what the issue was. Flow too slow? Flow too fast? Gas? Was just cranky in general, unrelated to the breast? It was a phase he grew out of. Thank the breastfeeding Gods. I wouldn’t have made it much longer.
Nursing around the clock that first month or two is when you realize what a labor of love breastfeeding is. I don’t know that I was prepared for the fact that it’s truly all you do for about 6 weeks. But the benefit of the repetition is that before you know it, it stops being scary and confusing and OMG HOW DO I KNOW IF HE’S GETTING ENOUGH and starts being second nature. And pleasant. And an excuse to sit down and have a quiet, peaceful moment with your baby. And watch The Bachelor on DVR. And Frasier. I watched so much Frasier the first month that I was afraid my child would imprint Peri Gilpin as his mother. When he was about two months old we were at a bridal shower and I was chatting with a veteran mom, remarking that I loved nursing because it gives you relaxing breaks throughout the day. I said I was enjoying it now because I got the impression nursing subsequent children wouldn’t be this peaceful. “No,” she said. “You hold the newborn to your chest with one hand and chase the older kids with the other.”
Apart from the terrific gift I know I’m giving my little guy, I am grateful to breastfeeding for building my confidence as a woman and mother. I now look at my baby in awe. My body grew him from nothing into an 8 pound being with limbs and eyeballs and toenails. Then my boobs grew him into a 17 pound being who thinks and reasons and rolls and crawls and belly laughs. As much as I wish I could take all the credit for these feats, nature did both of them with very little input from my end. Amazing.
A few weeks ago, right around the Fourth of July, my little January baby was ready to try some solid food. With a puzzled look and a furrowed brow, he slurped up a tiny spoonful of bananas and I admit I did shed a tear inside. Already he was beginning the process of growing up, of needing me just a little bit less than he used to. It motivates me all the more to cherish these moments that we have left together– a little palm splayed against my chest, a little set of eyes looking up at me, a sweet little flutter suck when I know he’s fast asleep but I’m busy burning the moment into my memory forever.
Thanks for sticking with me, baby– I’ve loved these days.